First of all, I want to apologize for having a bit of a late post. With back-to-school looming, things have been crazy, as everyone knows.
Second, I want to let everyone know that TeachersPayTeachers is having their annual Back To School sale, and that I am running a sale to coincide, making everything in my store 28% off! Most sellers are doing the exact same thing, so check it out and get great deals on classroom management resources, math Power Point lessons and other activities, and ELA reading and writing products. Here is my store.
When I taught writing to my students, I was constantly struggling with getting them to “show not tell.” If you’re a new English teacher and you haven’t heard that phrase, you will hear it soon, and often. One of the best things I learned about effective writing is that the power is in the verbs, not the adjectives. I’ve see teachers do “dead word” walls and activities, which I think are fantastic. Descriptive writing, however, requires students to “show” the reader. It requires them to craft their writing in such a way that the reader can relate to it himself and experience it as he reads. The use of imagery engages the reader because they can picture, smell, feel, taste, and hear what the author is writing.
Getting students to use effective imagery, however, is a daunting task. Ask a student to describe something and you’ll invariably get the most flat, one-dimensional words imaginable: “red,” “big,” “small,” “hot,” you get the picture. Words that are so vague they don’t really mean anything to the reader. To get students writing with better imagery, I ask follow up questions about their descriptions.
1) One question to ask is “how” or “which”. The student writes, “Her dress was red.” I ask, “Which shade of red?” The student writes “The house was big.” I ask, “How big was it?”
2) Another question I ask is “than what?” The student writes, “The car was small.” I ask, “Smaller than what?”
3) Ask “how do I know?” The student writes, “She was mad.” I ask, “How do I know she is mad?”
This type of questioning forces the student to be more specific in their descriptions, and I doing so, makes their writing more relatable to the reader.
There is a great activity that I do to help students branch out in their descriptions as they write. It takes a little while, but it’s worth it.
1) Each student will need a paper and pencil.
2) You will need several objects that have very distinct characteristics of the five senses.
3) You can divide the students into between 2 and 5 groups. 2 groups will allow students to experience more opportunities for sensory writing, but 5 groups will take a little less time overall.
4) Each group will get at least 1 object. The object should have a characteristic that clearly relates to one of the five senses.
5) The members of the group will INDIVIDUALLY describe the object with the condition that the person they are describing it to is missing (and has always been missing) that one (or you could do multiple) sense. For example, if the object was a bottle of perfume, the students would have to describe the scent of the perfume to someone who cannot (and never could) smell.
a. It’s important that students understand the person they’re describing to has never been able to use that sense. This will prevent them from giving flat descriptions. For example, if they have to describe an object to someone who cannot and has never been able to see, using the word “blue” means nothing. They have to come up with other words to describe the color. You get really cool descriptions.
6) Once each student has his/her description, the other group(s) listens to the description and tries to predict what the object will look/smell/sound/taste/feel like. For smell, taste, touch, and hearing, writing down the prediction is nearly impossible, but students will still be able to decide afterwards if the description was accurate/helpful. For the sense of sight, make sure students sketch the object based on the descriptions written by their classmates before showing them the actual object.
7) After the description is read and the opposing group(s) experience the original object, have them write 2 separate responses:
a. How accurate were their classmates’ descriptions? Why do they think the descriptions were as accurate (or un-) as they were?
b. What would his/her own description be for someone who was void of that sense?
Enjoy the rest of the summer!